Toxic claustrophobia

Jasmine Sharma’s Radial Gradient, directed in its world premiere at Shattered Globe Theatre by Grace Dolezal-Ng,is the story of two students and their bid to enter a sorority at their university. Anjani (Simran Deokule) is American-born, of Indian descent, and her family has lived in the United States for at least two generations. Her roommate Gigi (Isabelle Muthiah) considers herself a white-passing person of color, with a complexion she describes as “yogurty.” Their attempt to participate in Greek life becomes an allegory for a relationship with whiteness, white institutions, and white supremacy that includes themes of belonging, self-determination, and complicity with systems of power. 

Radial GradientThrough 3/11: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Sat 3/11 3 PM; touch tour and audio description Sat 3/3 8 PM (touch tour 6:45 PM); Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, 773-975-8150,, $45 general admission ($35 seniors, $25 under 30 years old, $15 students; also $15 industry tickets on Thu-Fri with code “INDUSTRY.”)

As Gigi and Anjani stand in line to be judged by their allegedly superior peers, they meet recruitment counselor Melanie (Kianna Rose), a Black member of the “top tier” Alpha sorority, who seems to be the exception to the laws of value in this realm. Anjani, forever Brown in the eyes of her peers, is inspired by Melanie’s ascendance and acceptance among the white elite. Gigi, disgusted by an Alpha sister’s refusal to acknowledge her (unnamed) heritage, declares the Alphas racist for presuming her white. As their friendship fractures, Anjani is disillusioned by sorority life and quits before joining, instead becoming a member of student government, whereas Gigi, protected by her white skin, joins the Gammas and eventually becomes president of the Panhellenic Association, with a private and generally ineffectual mission to improve the racial climate of Greek life. 

In the meantime, Melanie has been assaulted at a mixer with a fraternity, and her so-called sisters have refused to testify on her behalf in order to maintain relations with the fraternity. Instead of fighting back, Melanie perpetuates white power by pursuing a PhD in “multi-culti psychology” at the same university, where, in a desperate and preposterous attempt to conduct her thesis research at her dissertation defense, she subjects Gigi and Anjani to a faux-private survey under the surveillance (via two-way glass) of her thesis advisors. Radial Gradient illustrates the toxic claustrophobia of a petri dish where everyone speaks a vernacular of LOLs and TBHs, and no one can escape or progress. 

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